The destruction of the NHS

1948 pamphlet explaining the new NHS
A 1948 pamphlet explaining the new NHS

Download the full 1948 NHS pamphlet [PDF]

Today the Health and Social Care Act comes into force. One of the things it does is split the NHS up and put the parts out to tender to the lowest bidder. This video is an interview with Dr Lucy Reynolds who is a research fellow at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and she explains exactly how this works and what it means for the NHS.

I have reproduced some of the transcript here. Read the full transcript at The BMJ: The future of the NHS—irreversible privatisation?

Lucy Reynolds: We’re not going to have a big bang privatisation for the NHS. We’re going to have a very quiet one.

What has happened is that all of the rules that control health financing have been gradually changed since the New Labour times. Overall, we now have the NHS reorganised in such a way that it can be relaunched as a mixed market, so not just the public health sector service, but also a healthcare industry. The rules are structured in such a way that there will be a gradual transition between those two groups. The public sector will shrink away, and the private sector will grow.

But because there will never be an announcement in parliament that the NHS is privatised, and because the private providers will be allowed to use the NHS logo for anything that they are getting NHS funding for, it is very likely that the general public will not be aware that the private sector has in fact come in and taken over whatever bits of the NHS it finds profitable until probably service provision gets fairly bad.

—–

it sounds like a good idea to have diversity and options and these kinds of things, and that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the rules of the market are thoroughly stacked. We know for certain that organising [healthcare] as a public sector service is the cheapest and most effective way of providing healthcare. And that is broadly because the market model does not fit healthcare. The market model includes assumptions that both parties are in possession of all information about the subject of the transaction. In markets where the consumer has to rely upon the supplier for guidance, what you get isn’t a market that clears down to a minimum price and is efficient. What you get is soaraway inflation and abuse within that market.

—–

If you pay doctors only when they do work, then they over-treat people. If you make sure that medical facilities have no way of making any money other than by selling things, then they become salesmen, not advisers and advocates for the public. And actually in the world we have one of the very best public services, and compared to other developed countries it’s also one of the most cost effective

—–

The health service is being restructured on to an insurance compatible footing, and the CCGs are technically state-owned insurance schemes. So they are going to be taking on around 80% of the NHS budget and they are going to be parcelling it out to providers. They have been told that they are going to have a lot of autonomy in that and that they will be able to represent the interests of their patients in the matter.

That bit doesn’t appear to be able to be delivered when we have these regulations in place because what the regulations say is that commissioners will put out contracts according to competition law, and they will decide according to competition law. If anybody that didn’t get the contract feels that they don’t like the decision and that it could be faulted on failure to comply with competition law, they are permitted to complain to the sector regulator, Monitor, which is required to enforce competition law. So once everything gets put through the market, the CCGs won’t actually have any autonomy in the matter.

—–

It’s not suddenly going to turn into a privatised service on 1 April. What happens on 1 April is a bunch of legal and operational changes that affect the way that the NHS functions internally. In general this reform is a health financing reform. So we’re finishing the transition away from the original form of funding of the NHS and moving into a market system which is going to be full-on market.

The Telegraph – NHS reforms: From today the Coalition has put the NHS up for grabs

NHS Choices: NHS history

BBC Archive – Birth of the National Health Service | The early history of the NHS

The cost of living

I have just started taking pregabalin (Brand name: Lyrica) to treat the neuropathic pain that I have been suffering from. When I was discussing it with some friends I discovered something that seemed quite shocking to me. In the USA there are people that need this drug, have been prescribed it by their doctors, but have been deprived of it because their insurance companies have refused to pay for it. This refusal could be because they do not think it appropriate, or do not accept the reality of an illness that is not necessarily detectable in tests, but the most common reason is expense.

It hadn’t actually crossed my mind that pregabalin might be an expensive medicine. My doctor has a nice flowchart of what drugs to try for my illness and what order to try them in, and this one was next on the list. In my blissful ignorance, I simply take the prescription from the doctor to the pharmacy, and walk away with the drugs. All costs covered by the NHS. Since I have long term chronic illness, I am exempt even from paying the £7.20 prescription charge that most people would pay for their drugs.

All of this got me thinking; what if I had to pay for my medicine? Would it even be possible? I currently have twelve medicines on prescription. If I were to pay even the standard prescription charge, with the NHS covering the rest, my medicine bill would come to £86.40 per month. At the moment we are struggling to even pay for our rent, bills and food, so this cost would be crippling. But without the NHS? My drugs would cost much much more. I did some research, and I present here what I would pay for my most important drugs.

  • Metformin (Glucophage) £12.28
  • Gliclazide £1.86
  • Olmesartan Medoxomil £10.95
  • Bendroflumethiazide £0.91
  • Pramipexole £35.66
  • Sumatriptan nasal spray (Imigran) £35.39
  • Naproxen £4.20
  • Pregabalin capsules (Lyrica) £64.40
  • Codeine £5.39
  • Paracetamol £1.62

Total cost: £172.66 per month.

In the USA it would be even worse. Here are the best prices that I could find. (Via www.pharmacychecker.com)

  • Metformin (Glucophage) $50.40
  • Gliclazide $17.22
  • Olmesartan Medoxomil $18.20
  • Bendroflumethiazide – no price found
  • Pramipexole $29.68
  • Sumatriptan nasal spray (Imigran) $114
  • Naproxen $11.76
  • Pregabalin capsules (Lyrica) $161.28
  • Codeine – no price found
  • Paracetamol (Acetaminphen) – no price found

Total cost: $411.54 (£255.68)

That is an astonishing difference between UK and US price.If I had to pay all of it myself, I would have to go without many of my medicines, which would basically leave me unable to control my diabetes and my migraines. Apart from the Lyrica, my pain medication is actually very cheap and I would still be able to afford that. Without diabetes medication I would be practically unable to eat and would still have hyperglycemia. Without sumatriptan, my painkillers would not help and the other symptoms of migraines would keep me firmly in my bed. Fortunately the NHS covers my costs and I have some chance at recovery and leading a relatively normal life. Some people will no doubt argue that it is unfair for me to drain so much money from the NHS. They have failed to understand how this system works. When Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS in 1948 he gave the NHS three aims:

  • That it meet the needs of everyone
  • That it be free at the point of delivery
  • That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

Treatment for any given individual may very well be expensive, but it all works out in the end. I have paid National Insurance whenever I have been well enough to work. I receive my medicines without paying when I need them. With those medicines, I may well improve enough to work again and pay more National Insurance. The NHS provides for both people that will one day repay their healthcare costs, and people that might not. Even those that will never be able to work and contribute financially will still contribute something to their society by their very existence. And regardless of future financial contribution, would you really want to live in a world that simply leaves the sick to die?

I am very glad that we have the NHS and I will fight as hard as I can to keep it.The government must not be allowed to ruin what we have.